TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: How to Make The Right Call On Cell Plans

Re: How to Make The Right Call On Cell Plans

Lisa Hancock (
3 Nov 2004 07:12:26 -0800

Marcus Didius Falco <> wrote

> The Washington Post

> No other telecom service has seen this sort of ballooning value -- not
> Internet access, not landline phones and certainly not cable or
> satellite TV. But most other telecom markets don't benefit from the
> intense competition of the wireless industry, with five strong,
> nationwide carriers (down from six since Cingular's purchase of AT&T
> Wireless) out to eat each other's lunch.

I am far from an expert, but I disagree with some things in this

In the short run, cell phone rates have dropped dramatically. But in
the longer run, long distance telephone rates and telephone set costs
have dropped dramatically, too.

I don't credit competition but rather technology. Prior to divesture,
AT&T's long distance rates were dramatically falling (esp when
compared in constant dollars) because of improved technologies in
switching and transport.

For cellular, technology of high capacity within the radio bandwidth
made it cheap. The first big jump was the cellular concept itself,
then was digital to further split up the spectrum. Modern electronics
allowed powerful but tiny and light phones. The high capacity allowed
high volume which spread the unit cost of building towers among many

> This is why the first thing you should look at on a carrier's Web site
> is its coverage map. While these generally can't tell you about the
> annoying dead zones that only last half a mile on the highway, they
> should indicate where a carrier just doesn't have service at all.

I would love to see a _detailed_ coverage map for any cell phone
carrier, but I never could find one. The maps in the stores are
generally of a very wide area, impossible to identify the boundaries
with any precision. One major carrier uses various shades of green
which are hard for the viewer to separate.

Digital phones require more towers than analog. Cell phone companies
originally advertised digital as being superior quality, but it is
actually superior for them, not for us users.

> How important is it that the phone work at all times? There's no
> common standard for wireless service, save the oldest technology of
> them all -- analog cellular. Analog is what gave cell phones a bad
> name: It kills a phone's battery life, sounds lousy and will run up
> massive roaming charges. But as the lowest common denominator, it may
> be available where digital service is not.

Analog phones had bigger batteries. The older analog phones -- either
in a bag or in a car, had much more powerful transmitters. AFAIK, the
cell carriers will continue your service if you're already on with
such an old phone, but will not give you analog service as a new
customer with an old phone.

My own analog phone sounds no different than digital phones.

The issue of "roaming" is strictly marketing and has nothing to do
with technology. When I got my cell phone service, the roaming
charges and roaming territory was a function of my service plan.
Cheap plans = low roaming, expensive plans = high roaming.

The newspapers report many people get surprised by high roaming
charges they didn't except today; many plans still have some sort of
roaming charge.

> Which carrier do your friends and family use? Many Cingular and
> Verizon plans include unlimited calling to other phones on the same
> network. Sprint sells that option for $5 a month, and Nextel's Direct
> Connect Walkie-Talkie service, thanks to the unlimited usage the
> carrier generally allows, offers a rough equivalent. In any of those
> cases, you can opt for a cheaper plan if the people you'll talk to
> most often will use the same network as you.

Being on a single carrier can save a lot of money. My Verizon plan
pre-dates that, but my carrier still didn't charge me when I made some
peak-period calls to another cell phone of my carrier. I see
contractors using the walkie-talkie feature often.

> Cingular and Sprint have come up with two smart twists on standard
> pricing. Cingular lets you carry over unused minutes into the next
> month, while Sprint's customers can be automatically bumped to a
> higher calling plan if they exceed their included minutes.

My Verizon plan pre-dates rollover, but they did that for me anyway
automatically one month when I went over on my minutes.

> In one area, however, the competitive juices of the wireless market
> aren't flowing properly: Under-$30 plans, once a commonplace offering
> by carriers, have all but died out. If you need a phone only on rare
> occasions, look into prepaid service.

As we see, "competition" isn't always working as we expect. My old
plan is $19.95 a month with 200 off-peak minutes. Great for my use
since I would only make daytime calls in an emergency. To get a
similar plan today I'd have to pay $40/month plus pay for a phone.
There are a few $15/month plans but they are very limited, truly for
emergency use only. While I bought my cellphone for emergency use,
I have found it quite useful on weekends and obviously much cheaper
and more convenient than payphones.

I'm not sure the "pre-paid" phones are such a good idea because
some have expiration dates on the time whether you use it or not.
Plus you have to constantly recharge the time or you lose your number.

Whatever plan you do, you are on your own. Get everything in writing!
The cell phone sales people are interested in making commission, not
the best plan/phone for you. Too often they say a phone/plan has
features that it does not have or that something is free when it is a
cost. Also, most aren't very well trained and would not know the
answer to a specific question about coverage or technology. My
experiences at stores of the major carriers has been most

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